I always roll my eyes when there’s a set-up early on that involves an expert gun-for-hire, that has all these demands of the people hiring him. There can’t be a second person, you’ll call from a specific phone, you do the secret knock on the door…the possibilities are endless.
Willem Dafoe plays this guy, and he has that other cliché thing going – he loves opera.
He’s sent into the Tasmanian wilderness to hunt for a Tasmanian Tiger, which many think has been extinct since the ‘30s. We get to see the real, mesmerizing black-and-white short by naturalist David Fleay in 1933. It’s the last one ever in captivity, and we get a look at how large it can open its jaws.
It might be simple enough for Dafoe to fly into town, stay with the family he was set up with, and just pretend to be a scientist doing research on the Tasmanian Devils. The problem is loggers are losing their jobs, and they blame the tree huggers. The family he’s staying with has a few problems, too. One being the man of the family had gone out to the wilderness in search of the Tiger (a quick computer search showed me that million dollar rewards have been offered fairly recently).
Dafoe slowly transforms, and starts liking the family. When he fixes the power and we hear Bruce Springsteen – it’s a powerful scene on a few levels. It was nice hearing one of the few Springsteen songs I like (I’m on Fire), on the same soundtrack as Vivaldi.
This film was adapted from Julia Leigh’s novel, and it’s not director Daniel Nettheim that makes this movie – it’s cinematographer Robert Humphreys. He gives us some gorgeous landscapes that are well shot.
It helps that the cast includes Sam Neill and the talented and underrated Frances O’Connor.
Dafoe is perfectly cast, as his chiseled face and hands captivate you in every scene. He also has a kindness and touch of vulnerability that helps us root for the character.
Some people hate when fictional elements are brought into real stories (Titanic, now out in 3-D, is a perfect example). Those people won’t like the idea that a biotech company wants Dafoe to catch the Tasmanian Tiger for the blood, so they can develop the anesthetic it uses to immobilize its prey. Nothing I found online said that those Tigers did that, and I’m fine with that fictional element. It made me more interested in an animal I knew nothing about.
Some may say the movie was slow, but I was never bored. I found the slow transformation of Dafoe’s character interesting.
At times the family drama felt forced, but it eventually won me over.
Between Romney and Obama, The Grey and The Hunter – it’s been a bad year for animals.
This movie gets 3 ½ stars out of 5.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times